The Skinny on Fat Bikes

Fat bikes aren’t just a novelty anymore. Haven’t you heard? Fat bikes have moved beyond the Alaskan wilderness, to take cyclists on long treks in conditions one might think unsuitable for riding. They’ve become more than a fad. Fat bikes have found their way into many people’s hearts. They’ve even made their way to public radio!

Fat bikes got their name from the super wide tires they sport. Their appeal is in the way they move over otherwise impassible terrain.

2012 Surly Pugsley 20" whiteAn NPR reporter describes them as “mountain bikes on steroids, with tires wider than most people’s arms.” She describes the genesis of the fat bike:

In the late 1980s, cyclists in Alaska were looking for a good way to tackle snowy trails, so they welded three mountain bike rims together. That allowed for fatter tires that almost float on top of the snow.

Today, fat biking isn’t quite so do-it-yourself. The market for a bike like this is still small, but it’s the fastest-growing segment of the cycling industry.


GearJunkie describes the fat bike’s function:

From improved traction on dirt to flotation when riding through snow, the obese tires let a bike roll where it has not rolled before. The wide rubber — some fatty tires are 4+ inches across, or twice as wide as most mountain-bike tire tread — adds notable grip on the ground, and the extra surface area does not allow the wheel to sink as much into soft surfaces like snow or sand.

Another distinction: You can ride with significantly lower tire pressure. Think 15 or 10 psi, or even lower still. This gives the tire some significant squish, and that play translates to more rubber conforming onto the trail for serious grip.

2012 Surly Pugsley 20" whiteOn snow, the wide tires have more surface area touching down and simply “float” a bit more rather than digging in like skinnier tires can. Finally, with all that squishy rubber under you, suspension is not necessary for most fat bikes.

On the snow, fat-tire bikes are usually a good choice, though the big rubber is no panacea… But in snow, on sand, or for some serious grip on dirt or rocky terrain, nothing else made compares to a fatty.


At Higher Gear, we trust Surly for our fat bikes.

2012 Surly Pugsley 20" whiteSurly Pugsley

The Pugsley was created to go where standard “all terrain” bikes flounder. The floatation and traction afforded by large-volume, low-pressure tires can get you over and through otherwise un-rideable terrain…sand, mud, wet rocks and roots, ice and many kinds of snow.

You can set it up with a derailleur-ed drivetrain or an internally-geared hub. Run it with a single speed freewheel or a fixed cog. You have lots of drive train choices with the Pugsley.

The Pugsley sports a nice mix of components chosen for their durability and value. This year we changed the complete bike features Marge Lite rims and Microshift thumb shifters, which work well especially when wearing mittens.

There are other fat bikes out there these days. Lots of them use equipment we originally developed for the Pugsley. The Pugsley has not suffered in popularity with these new offerings, because it works exceedingly well and, hey, it’s fun too.


2012 Surly Moonlander Fat Bike Higher Gear Highland ParkSurly Moonlander

The Moonlander picks up where Pugsley left off. The Moonlander accommodates staggeringly wide 4.7˝ tires on 100mm rims. Such a large footprint allows you to ride them at very low pressure, and like a snowshoe enables even greater traction and float over all kinds of terrain…wet stuff, roots, rocks, pebbles, gravel, sand, and many types of snow.

You can set up the Moonlander as a singlespeed or geared bike, derailleur-ed or internally geared. The bottom bracket height gives you clearance for bushwhacking and monster-trucking. The dropped and gusseted top tube maximizes stand-over height. And the tallish head tube allows you to set your rig up with a comfortable riding position for those long days grinding out miles in the saddle.

The Moonlander, like its name implies, is meant to go beyond where normal bikes, even normal fat bikes, can go. It is designed from the ground up to ride where there are no roads, no trails, no people.


Where can a fat bike take you?

Surly Moonlander Fat Bike Higher Gear





Ready to go fat?


Need Help? Have Questions?

Highland Park | 847-433-2453
Wilmette | 847-256-2330

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